What we know as modern-day Budapest is a product of a menage a trois. In 1873 the three towns of Buda, Pest, and Obuda were connected by the construction of the chain bridge. However, the personalities of each area are very distinct and although they are now part of the same city, they seem to be worlds apart. Buda is the posh, decadent side, where the art is in galleries and the buildings are neo-gothically ornate. Pest, on the other hand, is the rebellious, real Hungary, where the bars are in ruins and the art is sprayed on the walls.

 

DSC_4652Pest is best in the evening, where the Jewish quarter bursts into life. The phenomenon of ruin bars began in 2002 when a couple of guys had the bright idea of recycling an old abandoned building into a buzzing drinking space. Szimpla was the result and drew in an eclectic crowd due to its mismatched bohemian style and all-embracing atmosphere.

The craze took hold, and now there is a smorgasbord of ruin bars to try out, each with their own take on the pop-up, temporary, unplanned theme.

DSC_4657If you want to take a tour around some of the best ruin pubs then there is no better place to start than the original bar Szimpla. There are several different alcoves to this building, all of which feature an opportunity to sample a beverage or two. The main open-air garden is the best spot, with random seating and even more haphazard decor. There may be some live music but it is definitely full of tourists, no locals here.

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DSC_4666On the other hand, Red Ruin is the opposite, full of locals. The establishment is free to be critical of Hungary’s communist era and does so with comical art compositions adorning the walls. The bar has a great selection of Hungarian beers on tap and a rocking heavy metal ambiance, all illuminated with a large amount of red light.

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To top off the evening head to the large complex known as Instant. This is when a ruin bar becomes a ruin nightclub. Its a huge sprawling rabbit warren of rooms that all seem to have their own identity and still be part of the same venue. There are six different dancefloors and yet you can still hold a conversation with other clubbers. There isn’t a cover charge and there did not seem to be any ridiculous door policies, which make this concept so appealing as it welcomes everyone. Finally, an unpretentious, not loud, and non-discriminatory, how refreshing!

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Once you have recovered from your night out it is a good idea to check out why the ruin bars even exist. The House of Terror is a museum dedicating to telling the stories to those who suffered under the Nazi and Communist regimes. It is a sobering visit, with tales of torture, unspeakable acts that humans can inflict on each other and about those who just disappeared. The abandoned buildings in the Jewish quarter are a result of those fleeing such atrocities or as the victims, never claiming their property once the regimes were over.

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To soak up the excess of the previous night pop into Cafe Csiga. It has a hearty menu with some great options, including beef cheeks and dumplings in a paprika sauce, which was truly delightful. The vibe is very relaxed, with some nice tunes, which makes this a great spot to decompress.

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It is opposite a covered market, where you can check out some of the local produce on offer too.

For a final burst of recovery take a walk around the city park and check out Vadjahunyad Castle. Originally a cardboard and wood celebration of a thousand years of the Hungarian invasion and emulated the architecture from around the country. It became so popular that it was rebuilt using stone and now houses a museum. If you look closely you might find a statue dedicated to famous Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, of the Count Dracula film.

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As always, the pretty sibling gets the attention, but the grungier more interesting child is where you should hang out, as it is a way cooler option. Pest is the artsy, alternative and advised option when visiting Budapest, just don’t forget to keep an eye out for an iconic Trabant or two!

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